In his best start of the spring, Jon Lester threw 5 1/3 effective innings in Boston’s rain-shortened loss to the Houston Astros, while closer Jonathan Papelbon struggled to get anyone out as he fought off the effects of a migraine headache.
Seemingly still under the influence of medication, an exhausted Papelbon — who slept in his locker before the game — was happy to at least get some work in. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to get much out of it.
“I’m just really trying to throw the ball in the zone and let them get themselves out,” Papelbon said of his strategy. “Unfortunately, the ball was hit around pretty much the whole ballpark.”
Coming on to start the seventh, Papelbon got Michael Garciaparra (yes, another Garciaparra sighting at City of Palms) to ground out. Then the roof caved in.
The next eight hitters went like this: hit batter, double, double, walk, single, error, double, single.
Six runs had scored by the time Ramon Ramirez came in to rescue Papelbon, who wasn’t right from the start.
“He wanted to get his work in and you could tell the whole inning he wasn’t himself,” manager Terry Francona said. “Good news is he got his work in. Flip side of that is he didn’t fare very well, and we didn’t make the plays to help. … He had a tough day physically.”
Papelbon said this was his first migraine of the year and that the medication and the effects of the pain left him “lackadaisical” and without energy.
It stood in stark contrast to the outing put in by Lester, who was the first Red Sox pitcher to work into the sixth inning this spring. He struck out seven and walked none, and two of the three runs he gave up came on an extremely wind-aided two-run homer off the bat of Kazuo Matsui.
Francona called the southpaw “plenty strong.”
Lester had endured a few shaky outings this spring, but feels the rhythm is coming around.
“I’m happy with how I’ve progressed from start to start and this one was big for me in terms of throwing my changeup in different counts,” said Lester, who has made a commitment to improving that pitch and throwing it more often.
In 2009, he threw a changeup 6.6 percent of the time, up from 3.7 percent the year before.
“I just think I’m more confident in using it more,” he said.
Astros hitters flailed at more than one off-speed pitch. Lester retired nine of the last 10 men he faced.
On an uneven day that saw one of the Sox’ two split-squad games rained out, another cut short by the same storm and their offense bust out in limited innings against the Astros, two of the club’s stud arms went in different directions.
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